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Status of unemployment of women in India

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  • Published
    18th Dec, 2019

Recently the trends in Labour Force Participation Rate and unemployment in India were released through the Periodic Labour Force Surveys (PLFS). Women fare poorly. Other studies, like OECD Economic Survey also suggest similar trends.


Recently the trends in Labour Force Participation Rate and unemployment in India were released through the Periodic Labour Force Surveys (PLFS). Women fare poorly. Other studies, like OECD Economic Survey also suggest similar trends.


  • Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR): Labour is considered a primary factor of production. LFPR is the sum of all workers who are employed or actively seeking employment, divided by the total working-age population (age group of 16-64).
  • Unemployment rate is defined as the share of labour force that is jobless, expressed as a percentage. Workers are considered unemployed if they currently do not work, despite the fact that they are able and willing to do so. 6.1% of India’s labour force and 17.8% of young people (15-29 years) in the labour force are unemployed.
  • Unemployment trends for women in India:
    • Only a quarter of the females in the country are either working or seeking jobs. Female LFPR is 23.3%.
    • Fall in LFPR was more for females than males.
    • The decline in LFPR for females was steeper in rural areas than urban.
    • Considerable wage gap between men and women; highest in Asia.
  • OECD Economic Survey of India: The OECD survey found that India has the largest difference between employment rates of women and men among OECD nations at 52 percentage points.
    • Unemployment among young, educated women in urban areas is quite higher.
    • Employment gap between women and men is highest in the 15 to 29 years bracket.
    • Underemployment and poor job quality remain important issues.
  • Status in other countries: In China, 43.5% women are in the workforce, in Sri Lanka 34.5%, Bangladesh 29.5% and in India 24.3%, according to World Bank data.
  • Women in politics: India ranks 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament. Only 9% of MPs or MLAs are women. The 17th Lok Sabha has 14% women representation.

Educated unemployed women

  • According the recent NSSO survey, 2017-18, In India, more educated women are unemployed than before.
  • In urban areas unemployment among educated women was twice their male counterparts.
    • The rate went up to 19.8% in 2017-18 from 10.3% in 2011-12.
  • For rural educated women, unemployment stood at 17.3% in 2017-18 increasing sharply from 9.7 per cent in 2011-12.
  • It is mostly uneducated women in dire straits and in desperate need of an income who go out to work in farms as daily wage workers even when their wages are lower than a man’s.
  • Parents on the other hand educate girls in order to find better matches for them in the marriage market.
  • ‘Gender Inclusion in Hiring in India’ Report: 8.7% of working-age urban, educated women in the country are unemployed but only 4% of comparable men find themselves without a job.

Reasons to Low Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP)

  • Structural, social and cultural factors contribute to low FLFP.
  • There is growing feminisation of agriculture tying women in this field due to socio-cultural restrictions, lack of alternate skills, and movement of men to cities away from agriculture.
  • Unpaid care and domestic work hours of Women in India are second highest in world.
  • Women in India do almost 10 times as much unpaid work as men.

Social barriers to women’s mobility

  • There exist social barriers to women’s mobility outside the house; it requires women to look for work with flexibility in timings and proximity to their households.
  • Social constructs also prevent women from engaging in paid labour in certain employment opportunities like in gas stations, as plumbers, carpenters etc., where men can easily find work.
  • Early age at marriage and child-birth is also a challenge to women joining the workforce.
  • In case of most rural women, the lack of opportunity and information, patriarchy and lack of training in special skills are standing in the way of their finding remunerative wage employment outside the home.


Half of India’s working-age population is not contributing to any economic activity. This is a serious cause of worry because it essentially means that India is not fully utilising its demographic dividend advantage. Studies suggest that increasing female participation in the labour force could increase the Indian GDP by 27 per cent.


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